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PFT's Week Two picks

[Editor’s note:  Each week, Rosenthal and I will go head to head,
picking the winner of each game.  The guy who does worse each week gets
to be the one to copy and paste together the text the next week.  Last week, we tied.  The NBC Competition Committee decided that I should have to copy and paste it all together again.  And so I’ll take the high road and accept the ruling.  In three days, after everyone applauds me for taking the high road, I’ll bitch about it on the radio.]

[UPDATE:  As it turns out, we didn’t tie.  Rosenthal won.  And I should have kept my damn mouth shut when I realized that he’d counted his victories incorrectly.]

Bills at Packers

Florio’s take:  In Week Two of the 2009 season, the Packers hosted an AFC team, and the AFC team stole a win.  In Win Two of the 2010 season, another AFC team comes to town.  But there’s a big difference between last year’s Bengals and this year’s Bills.  Even with Packers running back Ryan Grant done for the year, Green Bay has too much talent — and the Bills don’t have nearly enough.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 42, Bills 19.

Rosenthal’s take: This reminds me of the blowout specials Florio used to get to pick last year when we split the workload.  You could try to make a case for the Bills, but you’d be trying too hard.  Buffalo doesn’t have the receiver depth to test Green Bay’s secondary.  The Bills’ three-headed running game was oddly underused last week.  Their screens were predictable.  Holes closed on C.J. Spiller a lot faster than they did at Clemson or in the preseason.  Don’t expect daylight this week. 

Rosenthal’s pick: Packers 27, Bills 10.

Dolphins at Vikings

Florio’s take:  The Vikings’ offense and the Dolphins’ defense cancel each other out.  So this one will come down to the ability of the Minnesota defense to bottle up the Miami offense.  Given that the Bills were able to keep the attack largely in check last week, the Vikings should have no problems shutting them down.

Florio’s pick:  Vikings 24, Dolphins 12.

Rosenthal’s take: Miami’s defense was impressive in Buffalo.  Mike Nolan did a lot of fun things with Karlos Dansby and Cameron Wake; they can get pressure on Brett Favre. Even short a few players, this is an improved linebacker group.  Favre also may not be ready to take advantage of a Dolphins secondary that features Benny Sappy a little too prominently.  There’s an old axiom that you shouldn’t pick a team to cover the spread unless you think they can win. 5.5 points feels like too much.  So let’s just go all the way and take the Dolphins in an upset special.  (I changed this pick at the last minute, which is the kiss of death.)  [Editor’s note:  Hey, Rosey, if you’re gonna pick the upset, just pick the upset and be done with it.]

Rosenthal’s pick: Dolphins 23, Vikings 21.

Chiefs at Browns

Florio’s take:  With former Patriot Scott Pioli running the Chiefs and former Patriot turncoat Eric Mangini coaching the Browns, this one carries a strong undercurrent of hostility.  Then there’s the fact that Browns running back Jerome Harrison shredded the K.C. defense for 286 yards last December.  Look for the new-look Chiefs to bring their new attitude to Ohio, and to send the Browns to a loss in the second of two games that most expected Cleveland to win.

Florio’s pick:  Chiefs 20, Browns 13.

Rosenthal’s take: Remember all the positive energy in Kansas City on Monday night?  Imagine that, but the complete opposite happening in Cleveland if the Browns fall behind Sunday.  Jake Delhomme’s injury doesn’t hurt the Browns, though.  Seneca Wallace is different, and could force the Browns coaches to get creative with a roster that begs for creativity to make up for a lack of talent.  Eric Mangini can’t afford to lose the Belichick B-team Bowl after last week’s collapse in Tampa.  Romeo Crennel knows just how to lose in Cleveland.

Rosenthal’s pick: Browns 17, Chiefs 14.

Bears at Cowboys

Florio’s take:  The Bears lucked into a win at home and the Cowboys squandered a victory of their own on the road.  This week, the Cowboys head back to Dallas, 25 years after the Bears authored a 44-0 beatdown of the ‘Boys.  The Bears haven’t won in Big D since the year after that game — and their streak of futility will continue.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 24, Bears 10.

Rosenthal’s take: No clue what to make of the Bears after last week.   Jay Cutler moved the ball very well, Matt Forte is revived, and the defense stuffed Detroit all day.  Yet they still needed a lucky call to save them from an opening loss at home.  The Cowboys are easier to read.  Their offensive line has problems and they know it.  The defense is great.  Will the return of two injured, older starting lineman be enough to turn things around?  It’s enough this week.

Rosenthal’s pick: Cowboys 24, Bears 20.

Cardinals at Falcons

Florio’s take:  The Cards barely beat a still-bad Rams team last week, and the Falcons gave fits to the Steelers on their home field.  Atlanta realizes that the window will close quickly if they can’t keep pace with the Saints.  Besides, Falcons are far more menacing birds.

Florio’s pick:  Falcons 28, Cardinals 20.

Rosenthal’s take: Arizona fans complaining about style points last week need to get a grip.  Kurt Warner has left the building.  This is a different Cardinals team, and they are going to have to win creatively while Derek Anderson figures things out. The guy led two impressive fourth-quarter drives last week and that will do for now.  Matt Ryan, on the other hand, has struggled to move the ball since the preseason.  I think Atlanta’s improved defense carries the day here.  Both these teams deserve to be 1-1. 

Rosenthal’s pick: Falcons 19, Cardinals 14. 

Buccaneers at Panthers

Florio’s take:  Since 2003, the Panthers have handled the Bucs on 11 of 14 occasions.  Though Tampa pulled off a minor surprise on Sunday against the Browns, the Panthers can be expected to take care of business on their own turf.  If they can’t, Carolina could be 0-5 at the bye.

Florio’s pick:  Panthers 24, Buccaneers 14.

Rosenthal’s take: The Bucs have a golden opportunity to go 2-0, even if Panthers starting quarterback Matt Moore plays as expected despite a concussion last week.  Raheem Morris has the Bucs defense looking improved, like they did at the end of last year.  These two similar teams fly well below the NFL radar and got against current league norms.  They want to win with running, defense, and not screwing things up too badly passing the ball.  John Fox has more practice.  And better running backs. 

Rosenthal’s pick: Panthers 20, Bucs 13.

Eagles at Lions

Florio’s take:  With Mike Vick making his first start since 2006, the question becomes whether he can play like he did against the Packers, who weren’t prepared to face him, when facing a Lions team that knows Vick will be the guy.  Lions coach Jim Schwartz never has had to defend Vick; when Schwartz served as defensive coordinator for the Titans, Schwartz’s team was the last one to play the Falcons before Vick returned from a broken leg.  Look for Schwartz to try to keep Vick in the pocket in the hopes that he’ll be forced to throw — and that he’ll force a few mistakes.  And then Kevin Kolb will get “healthy” quickly.

Florio’s pick:  Lions 20, Eagles 13.

Rosenthal’s take: The battle of the tortured fan bases.  The rest of the world learned about what it meant to be a Lions fan this week.  Week One, full of hope, they lost their young franchise quarterback and a game in the most painful way possible.  The Lions have a vertical passing attack with the weakest-armed quarterback in the league in Shaun Hill.  Eagles fans have it pretty good, but they like drama.  They talked up Kevin Kolb all offseason, then gave up on him after 30 minutes.  It’s hard to blame them after the way Michael Vick played last week.  Vick will put it to the Lions just to make this whole situation more ridiculous.

Rosenthal’s pick: Eagles 27, Lions 16.

Ravens at Bengals

Florio’s take:  The Bengals somehow swept the Ravens last year.  It won’t be happening again in 2010.  Baltimore looks as good as they ever have looked, and the Bengals looked nothing like they looked a year ago.  Look for Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis to continue to drop the hammer on anyone who looks in his direction.

Florio’s pick:  Ravens 23, Bengals 9.

Rosenthal’s take: The Bengals defense said they were confused early against the Patriots.  So were guys like Tedy Bruschi that picked Cincinnati to go to the Super Bowl.  At least the Bengals passing attack showed signs of life after the early disaster.  It may have been garbage time, but Carson Palmer couldn’t put up big stats any time last year.  Unlike the Jets, Cincinnati has the weapons to take advantage of Baltimore’s secondary.

Rosenthal’s pick: Bengals 27, Ravens 23.

Steelers at Titans

Florio’s take:  Last year, these two teams kicked off a season that many assumed would end in a playoff rematch.  Neither qualified for the postseason.  This year, both look like they’re on their way to another trip to January.  It all comes down to the Steelers defense against the Titans offense, and the Steelers defense is simply too tough.

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 13, Titans 9.

Rosenthal’s take: The Titans were my pick to win the AFC South in the PFT Season Preview, so I’m basically going to take them at home unless they are facing the ’85 Bears.  The Steelers defense isn’t at that level, but it could wind up being the best in 2010.  Pittsburgh can neutralize Chris Johnson — they held him to 57 yards in last year’s opener.  So it will come down Vince Young versus Dennis Dixon and Young should be up for the challenge. 

Rosenthal’s pick: Titans 14, Steelers 10.

Seahawks at Broncos

Florio’s take:  Former Broncos quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates, who was essentially run off when Josh McDaniels became the head coach, returns to town with a team that unexpectedly won in Week One by 25 points.  But it’s one thing to put a pasting on the 49ers at home in the season opener, it’s quite another to do it in Denver.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 24, Seahawks 17.

Rosenthal’s take: These teams that are a total mystery, especially the Seahawks.  Can Seattle play so inspired without the 12th man?  What is this team good at precisely?  It looks like Pete Carroll is going to make this defense better and more interesting.  The offense has work to do.  In Denver, I know what I’m getting from Kyle Orton and his band of merry secondary receivers.  The Broncos can beat suspect NFC West teams at home.

Rosenthal’s pick: Broncos 28, Seahawks 21.

Rams at Raiders

Florio’s take:  The Rams looked better than expected in Week One; the Raiders looked far worse.  But Oakland is at home and the Rams are still learning how to win.  Though neither team will be embarrassed, look for the Raiders to take care of business in the Black Hole.

Florio’s pick: Raiders 17, Rams 10.

Rosenthal’s take: The optimism stops here for one of these teams. The Raiders wouldn’t be able to sell progress after a blowout loss on the road and a home loss to the Rams.  Sam Bradford has given the Rams hope for the future, but the present looks awfully bleak if they go 0-2 with a soft opening schedule.  Two Raiders, including Jason Campbell, alluded to being overconfident heading into the Titans game.  You know, because of their draft grades.  Losing 11 or more games for seven years hasn’t humbled this franchise.  Maybe losing to the Rams will. 

Rosenthal’s pick: Rams 21, Raiders 17.

Texans at Redskins

Florio’s take:  The reunion of the Shanahans and Gary Kubiak adds intrigue to a game that suddenly has become one of the best of the weekend give the teams’ performances in Week One.  We’ll quickly find out whether Houston tailback Arian Foster rolled up all those yards because he played against a bad run defense or because the Texans have become the ultimate “pick your poison” pass/run attack.  And we’ll find out whether the Redskins’ offense can score a touchdown or two without having it handed to them.

Florio’s pick:  Texans 27, Redskins 24.

Rosenthal’s take: Matt Schaub and Gary Kubiak are road favorites coming off a huge win. This is exactly the game they usually trip over, which worries me. Also worrisome:  Every aspect of the Redskins offense except their tackle play.  (How odd is that?)  Washington just doesn’t have enough firepower to hang with Houston, who should give Arian Foster a break and only rush him 25 times this week. 

Rosenthal’s pick: Texans 24, Redskins 17.

Patriots at Jets

Florio’s take:  During an offseason of incessant Jets chirping, the Patriots have remained largely silent.  Apart from Tom Brady’s acknowledgement that he hates the Jets, the Pats have avoided the trash talk.  Instead, the Patriots have saved it for the field, and the Jets may have a hard time saving themselves as the Pats make the only kind of statement that truly matters in football.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 35, Jets 13.

Rosenthal’s take: What goes up in the NFL usually comes down. And vice versa.  An overconfident team loses one week, gets ripped, and plays hungry the next time out.  Last year, Rex Ryan called the Jets’ Week Two game against the Patriots the team’s Super Bowl.  This one is far more important.  The Jets know they can’t go 0-2 at home to start the year. The Jets defense still looks great. The offense can find a way on the ground.  Don’t crown the Patriots yet; this will be a season-long battle.

Rosenthal’s pick: Jets 20, Patriots 16.

Jaguars at Chargers

Florio’s take:  Most expected one of these teams to be 1-0 and the other to be 0-1; few expected that the Jaguars would be undefeated and that the Chargers would be winless.  Though it may feel like a home game for the Jaguars since the stadium will be partially empty (rim shot!), the Chargers have the horses to get back to 1-1 against a Jaguars team that overachieved against the Broncos.

Florio’s pick:  Chargers 30, Jaguars 21.

Rosenthal’s take: The Chargers talked all offseason about avoiding yet another slow start to the year, and then slogged through a loss in the Kansas City rain.  Weather should be more conducive to vertical passing in San Diego this week. I don’t trust either secondary or either pass rush, even if Aaron Kampman looks like a fine pickup.  I’ll take Philip Rivers in a shootout over David Garrard every time.

Rosenthal’s pick: Chargers 34, Jaguars 26.

Giants at Colts

Florio’s take:  Peyton Manning has started 0-1 only three times in his 13-year career.  Only once, as a rookie in 1998, has Peyton Manning begun a season at 0-2.  This time around, Peyton takes an 0-1 mark into his second career game against his kid brother.  And more importantly than not going 0-2 to Peyton will be avoiding losing to Eli.  Sometimes, it really is that simple.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 31, Giants 19.

Rosenthal’s take: Both brothers have grown up a lot since the last Manning Bowl.  Peyton won a Super Bowl and did the United Way spot on Saturday Night Live.  Eli won a Super Bowl, got significantly better after the title, and adjusted his Southern fraternity mop top.  That makes this a fair fight, especially if the Giants pass rush has truly reawakened.  Fair, but not equal.  Peyton is still the one with MVPs and Peyton doesn’t start the year 0-2.

Rosenthal’s pick: Colts 34, Giants 30.

Saints at 49ers

Florio’s take:  Rarely if ever has a team with high expectations imploded as quickly as the 49ers.  They open their home schedule with a visit from the Saints, who will have had the longest possible non-bye-week time to prepare for the game, playing on a Thursday and next on the following Monday, 11 days later.  After the game, Niners coach Mike Singletary will be thanking Sean Payton in the same way Singletary thanked Pete Carroll.  

Florio’s pick:  Saints 30, 49ers 13.

Rosenthal’s take: Weirdly dangerous game for the Saints against an ornery 49ers team.  New Orleans fans don’t like that I questioned their run defense this week, but one game doesn’t erase all of last season and a shaky linebacker group.  Luckily, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams doesn’t have to get too creative to stop Alex Smith and the 49ers passing attack.  Load up the box, and dare Smith to beat you.  The Saints are in Payton/Brees version 5.0.  The essentially can do anything they choose with a veteran group of receivers.  The 49ers can’t get the play calls in on time.

Rosenthal’s pick: Saints 27, 49ers 21.

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Pete Carroll believes in Thomas Rawls, also believes Marshawn Lynch will be back this year

Thomas Rawls AP

With Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch undergoing surgery on Wednesday, the offense will rely on running back Thomas Rawls to carry the load until Lynch returns. How confident is the head coach in the undrafted rookie from Central Michigan?

“I don’t know, pretty confident,” Pete Carroll told reporters on Wednesday. “He’s done very, very well. He’s been consistent, and whenever he’s been given a real good shot he’s come through in a big way. So excited for him to have another opportunity to go out and see how our guys block for him and see what we can get done again. Not every game’s going to be like that of course, but he certainly gives us a chance to run the ball like we like to and our hopes are very high that he’s going to do very well.”

He’s also going to be expected to thrive without the offensive line changing its style.

“[W]e’re not changing anything like that,” Carroll said. “If anything, [Rawls] has to find his rhythm. He’s the one that has to adapt. There are some times that he really hits things so quickly that it’s a little bit different for us, and he’s working to time that up with the different types of runs that we have.”

But Caroll doesn’t expect Rawls to change his overall style, which is premised on not avoiding contact.

“I don’t have any concern about that,” Carroll said. “That’s who this guy is, and we wouldn’t want to change that about him. There may be a time when we talk about an opportunity, you know he could’ve taken off and not been the heat-seeking missile kind of thing, but we’ll watch and see how it goes. But at this point, I wouldn’t want to do anything to take away from his instinct to go after it and be aggressive be physical. He explained it, I saw it a little bit in his postgame. We talked about it on the sidelines, he’s got a real clear thought of what he’s doing. He’s not going out of bounds. He’s not going to run around guys. He’s going to find somebody to attack and take it to him. In that, he still makes his cuts and makes you miss too. That’s what the good runners, they have that combination that doesn’t allow a defensive guy to really know what he’s going to get.”

So will Lynch get back this year? Carroll was asked whether there’ a chance that Lynch won’t return in 2015.

“Well I think you’d have to say that there is a chance, yeah,” Carroll said. “You said is there any chance, there’s a chance, but we don’t expect that to happen.”

The Seahawks expect Lynch to be back. So who will be No. 1 on the depth chart when that happens?

“We’ll see how it goes,” Carroll said. “We think [Lynch would be the lead back], why would we not? I would think so. Let’s see how much we get a chance to work Thomas and see how [Marshawn] returns. We might be able to bring him back on a temporary basis, but we’ll just wait and see. Of course [Lynch is] the guy that we would lean on, sure.”

Regardless of what happens the rest of 2015, it’s becoming more and more clear that Rawls is the guy the Seahawks will lean on come 2016, when he’s due to make $525,000 and Lynch is set to earn a whopping $9 million.


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Patriots kick tires on trio of wideouts

Max Bullough,Alan Bonner AP

With four receivers on the initial injury report of the week, the Patriots spent some time on Wednesday taking a look at some free-agent receivers.

Per a league source, getting tryouts on Wednesday were receivers Alan Bonner, Julian Talley, and Austin Willis.

Bonner (pictured), a sixth-round pick of the Texans in 2013 from Jacksonville State, spent his first two NFL seasons injured reserve. He has yet to play at this level.

Talley played college football at the University of Massachusetts, where he played with Victor Cruz. He appeared in two regular-season games with the Giants in 2013 and two more in 2014, with no catches.

Willis, undrafted in 2015 from Emporia State, spent time before the regular season with the Raiders and the Bills.

The Patriots signed none of the players. They may need to do something before Sunday, if Danny Amendola and/or Aaron Dobson join Julian Edelman as being unable to play.

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Jim Tomsula says he’s not thinking about job security

Jim Tomsula AP

49ers coach Jim Tomsula has won three of his first 10 games as a head coach. That record obscures the reality that some of the losses were so ugly that it’s a bit surprising he’s won three times.

Either way, the overall performance of the team has prompted speculation about his future. On Wednesday, reporters asked Tomsula whether he has received any assurances about whether he’ll return in 2016.

“[W]e haven’t had any conversations about any of that,” Tomsula said. “Just to your point right there, we’re in a performance-based business and all of us in it get it. So I don’t think or work that way. [M]y long-term goal is Sunday. It’s just where I stay.”

Many believe the 49ers wouldn’t fire Tomsula after one year because he was the hand-picked successor to Jim Harbaugh, selected by G.M. Trent Baalke and owner Jed York to move the team forward. Firing Tomsula after one year would amount to an admission that they screwed up.

Still, plenty of coaches have been replaced after only one year on the job. Two years ago, the Browns fired Rob Chudzinski after a single season. In 2012, the Jaguars fired Mike Mularkey after only one year on the job. In 2011, Hue Jackson got dumped by the Raiders after one season as the non-interim head coach. In 2009, Jim Mora (the Younger) was one-and-done in Seattle. In 2007, the Dolphins hired Cam Cameron, and then they fired him after one year.

Other one-and-out coaches since 1980 include Art Shell (Raiders, 2006), Marty Schottenhimer (Washington, 2001), Al Groh (Jets, 2000), Ray Rhodes (Green Bay, 1999), Joe Bugel (Raiders, 1997), Pete Carroll (Jets, 1994), Richie Petitbon (Washington, 1993), Rod Rust (Patriots, 1990), and Les Steckel (Vikings, 1984).

So if the 49ers move on from Tomsula, it won’t really be a shock because he lasted only a one year. It nevertheless would be a surprise because the 49ers picked Tomsula over arguably the best coach in franchise history other than Bill Walsh.

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Four receivers on Patriots injury report

Danny Amendola AP

As the Patriots prepare to try to move the ball against a Denver defense coordinated by Wade Phillips, New England could be shorthanded at the receiver position.

Not practicing on Wednesday were Julian Edelman (foot), Danny Amendola (knee), Aaron Dobson (ankle). Limited in practice was Keshawn Martin, with a hamstring problem.

If more than Edelman (who most likely will miss the game) can’t play, the task of moving the ball and scoring points becomes far more difficult against the Broncos, given the presence of cornerbacks like Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr., and Bradley Roby.

As to the Broncos, linebacker DeMarcus Ware remains out of practice with a back injury. Per a league source, he could still miss at least two more weeks. Also, quarterback Peyton Manning appears on the report as only having a foot injury, which means that his rib issue apparently has cleared up.

Also out for the Broncos was guard Evan Mathis (ankle). Limited in practiced were tight end Owen Daniels (knee), receiver Emmanuel Sanders (ankle, finger), and defensive end Vance Walker (shoulder).

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Goodell releases statement following Gifford CTE disclosure

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A few hours after the family of late Hall of Famer Frank Gifford released a statement that said Gifford was found to have suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell released a statement of his own that said the league continues to work to try to prevent concussions, to understand more about CTE and to make football safer for all who play it.

“This work will continue as the health and safety of our players remains our highest priority,” Goodell’s statement said. “We have more work to do — work that honors great men like Frank Gifford.​”

Gifford, who played long before the NFL acknowledged the potential problems arising from concussions, once missed more than a full season after being knocked out by Eagles linebacker Chuck Bednarik. Gifford died last summer at 84.

Goodell’s statement said Gifford “exemplified everything good about our game throughout his years of extraordinary accomplishments, both on and off the field.

“We appreciate the Gifford family’s desire to help the medical community understand more about CTE, and we are grateful for their support of the league’s efforts to improve safety in our game. At the NFL, we are supporting grants to NIH and Boston University as well as other independent efforts to research the effects of repetitive head trauma.

“But we are not waiting until science provides all of the answers. We are working now to improve the safety of our game. The NFL has made numerous rules changes to the game, all to enhance player health and safety at all levels of football. These include 39 rule changes and better training and practice protocols that are yielding measurable results.”

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Bailey out of surgery, will spend 3-5 days in ICU

Stedman Bailey, David Hawthorne AP

Rams wide receiver Stedman Bailey is out of surgery and will spend the next 3-5 days in intensive care, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweeted Wednesday afternoon.

Bailey’s “doctors are hopeful,” Rapoport tweeted. Bailey was shot in the head and shoulder Tuesday night in Miami.

Rams Coach Jeff Fisher announced later Wednesday that Bailey is in stable condition after 4-6 hours of surgery.

A Rams statement released early Wednesday morning said Bailey was in critical but stable condition. Rapoport reported Tuesday night that the driver of the car in which Bailey was riding was shot multiple times.

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Corey Linsley questionable for Thanksgiving nightcap

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 13:  at Soldier Field on September 13, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Getty Images

The Packers had to turn to JC Tretter at center after Corey Linsley left last Sunday’s game with an ankle injury and they may be turning to him from the opening snap against the Bears on Thursday night.

Linsley did not practice at all during this abbreviated week of work for the Packers and has been listed as questionable for Thursday night’s game. On Wednesday, coach Mike McCarthy sounded comfortable going with Tretter if that’s the way things play out.

“[Tretter] was one of the offensive game ball winners for his performance in Minnesota,” McCarthy said, via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “I think any time you lose a center or a quarterback, those guys handle the football on every single play, and for the player caller, for Tom Clements to be able to just keep calling the ball and for Aaron to be able to get in and out of the plays that he needed to and not even blink, I think it says a lot about JC Tretter and his preparation and our ability just to stay the course.”

The Packers have ruled out wide receivers Jared Abbrederis and Ty Montgomery while defensive backs Micah Hyde and Damarious Randall join Linsley and defensive tackle Mike Pennell with questionable tags.

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Calvin Johnson, Darius Slay questionable for Thursday

DETROIT, MI - NOVEMBER 22: Calvin Johnson #81 of the Detroit Lions runs his 700th reception in the second quarter while playing the Oakland Raiders, becoming the first in franchise history to reach 700 receptions  at Ford Field on November 22, 2015 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Lions didn’t rule anyone out of Thursday’s game against the Eagles, but they did list a couple of key players as questionable for their effort to extend their winning streak to three games.

Wide receiver Calvin Johnson drew the listing due to the ankle injury that he’s been dealing with for the last few weeks. There hasn’t been any indication out of Detroit that he could miss the game and he’s been listed as questionable the last two weeks before playing against the Packers and Raiders.

Cornerback Darius Slay is also questionable. He has a neck injury, but was a limited participant on Tuesday and practiced without limitations on Wednesday. Slay is coming off a very strong game against Raiders wide receiver Amari Cooper and has been a big part of the improved defensive play in Detroit’s recent victories.

Safety Don Carey is questionable with a back injury and defensive tackles Caraun Reid and Gabe Wright drew the same tag due to ankle issues. All three were limited participants in practice all week.

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Tyrann Mathieu: 49ers better off with Blaine Gabbert at QB

Denver Broncos v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu called it early on, identifying the problems Colin Kaepernick was having in the 49ers passing game after his two-pick game.

But he doubled down Wednesday, saying the 49ers are in better hands with Blaine Gabbert on the field.

“That’s not to take anything away from Kaepernick, but it seems like Gabbert has a little bit better grip on what’s going on,” Mathieu said, via Matt Maiocco of “If he gets in a situation, he knows where the ball needs to go. He’s a hell of a passer. I think he’s underrated when you talk about how well he can throw the football.

“I think he gives them a better option going forward. It seems like the wide receivers are more involved. So it looks like they’re doing all right.”

While it seems strong considering it’s Blaine Gabbert, Real American we’re talking about, Mathieu touched on some valid points.

Gabbert has completed 62.7 percent of his passes in two games, has only thrown two interceptions, and put up a passer rating of 88.9. Kaepernick completed 59.0 percent of his passes, and was carrying a 78.5 rating when he was benched.

Kaepernick was clearly struggling this year, and Mathieu said it doesn’t appear it will be as easy to bait Gabbert into making bad throws.

“No, I don’t think so,” Mathieu said. “[It] seems like he takes care of the football way better. If he gets into a situation where he feels pressure, he’s not just going to give the defense an opportunity to make a play. . . .

“You don’t pick up those same things with Gabbert. He’s better in the pocket. He has a better feel for coverages. It seems like he can get to the line and see a coverage and then go to a different play. Or, see a coverage and not throw the ball. You can see Gabbert’s maturity and the different things he does well that Kaepernick doesn’t do well.”

While Gabbert has done some good things, it’s probably too soon to put too fine a point on what his better-than-Kaepernick play means on the whole.

But the fact that an opponent is so open about the difference speaks to how far Kaepernick has fallen, and how fast.

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Ryan Fitzpatrick shears beard “to switch up the mojo”

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 22: Ryan Fitzpatrick #14 of the New York Jets on the sidelines against the Houston Texans in the second quarter on November 22, 2015 at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Jets have lost four of their last five games, hurting their position in the race for an AFC Wild Card spot with six games left to play in the season.

Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has played poorly in their last two losses to the Bills and Texans, which led to questions for coach Todd Bowles about a potential quarterback change for this week’s game against the Dolphins. Bowles is sticking with Fitzpatrick, but the quarterback did something this week in hopes of changing his fortunes.

It’s not an on-field tweak, however. Fitzpatrick reported to work on Wednesday without the familiar beard — best described as the look of someone trapped in a well for several weeks — he’s sported all season.

“Just seemed like it was time to switch up the mojo a little bit,” Fitzpatrick said, via the team.

We’ll see whether it has the desired effect on the field, but one upside is that Fitzpatrick is unlikely to wind up finding Thanksgiving leftovers under his facial hair while trying to call a play against the Dolphins on Sunday.

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Josh McCown hates getting Browns starting job back this way

Josh McCown AP

Josh McCown has had a long NFL career and been signed by a number of teams because he’s athletic enough and smart enough to make a few plays, as he showed in his successful stint in Chicago.

But he’s been able to hang around because he’s great in the locker room, and the kind of leader teams want in the organization regardless of his role.

And now that his role has changed again, he showed it again.

McCown sounded practically chagrined to be back in the starting role for the Browns, because he got the job back because of the team’s disappointment with Johnny Manziel’s bye-week partying.

You never want to regain a job this way,” McCown said, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “Any teammate, you’d be disappointed for them. You want the best for people.”

At this stage, the question will become whether Manziel himself is willing to take the steps necessary to earn the team’s trust back. But McCown said he was encouraged by what he saw from Manziel this morning in meetings.

“It’s a credit to Johnny,” McCown said. “He came to work this morning and took notes and did everything he was supposed to do.”

If Manziel wants an example of the way he needs to handle himself moving forward, he can also look across that quarterback meeting room at McCown, who has stayed in the league 13 years by being mature and responsible as much as able to make plays.

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49ers claim Ray-Ray Armstrong off waivers

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 22: Ray-Ray Armstrong #57 of the Oakland Raiders looks on during the preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings on August 22, 2014 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Vikings defeated the Raiders 20-12. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Raiders signed linebacker Aldon Smith after he was released by the 49ers and now the 49ers have added a former Raiders linebacker to their roster.

The team announced Wednesday that they have claimed Ray-Ray Armstrong off of waivers a day after the Raiders parted ways with the three-year veteran. Defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, who tore his ACL last Sunday, was placed on injured reserve in a corresponding move.

Armstrong played in all 10 Raiders games this season and started the first two weeks of the season before moving into a reserve role. He had 21 tackles and a sack.

Armstrong also landed in the news this season in relation to a law enforcement investigation into taunting a police dog in Pittsburgh. Armstrong allegedly lifted his shirt, pounded his chest and barked at the dog before telling the dog’s handler to let it off the leash, but authorities found his actions were not malicious.

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Andrew Luck “very confident” he’ll play again this year

during the second half against the Indianapolis Colts at the Georgia Dome on November 22, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. Getty Images

The Colts won without Andrew Luck last week and they’ll try to do it again against the Buccaneers this week, but Luck said Wednesday that he doesn’t think they’ll have to play without him for the rest of the 2015 season.

In his first meeting with the media since suffering a lacerated kidney and abdominal tear against the Broncos earlier this month, Luck said he was “very confident” that he will return to action this year. Word at the time of the injury was that Luck would miss between two and six weeks and Sunday will mark three weeks since he was injured, but there was no word from the quarterback about a timetable for return.

Luck also weighed in on coach Chuck Pagano’s belief that he can’t keep playing quarterback as if he’s a linebacker. Luck was injured on a run against the Broncos that ended with linebacker Danny Trevathan and defensive end Vance Walker hitting him and agreed that he needs to work on getting down to the turf to avoid such hits in the future.

“Part of it I brought upon myself by not sliding in certain situations,” Luck said, via the Indianapolis Star. “There’s a time and place for taking a hit. I’m not going to apologize in that sense because sometimes it is appropriate. But sliding is something I need to improve on, we’ve talked about that before. It’s no secret.”

For now, though, he’ll be resting and waiting for his organs to recover so that he can return to the field for what the Colts hope will be a fourth playoff trip in a row.

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Judge says New York DFS ruling will come “very soon”

david-boies Getty Images

[Editor’s note: FanDuel is an advertiser of PFT and PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio. Also, NBC Sports has an equity stake in FanDuel.]

On Wednesday, Judge Manuel Mendez heard arguments in the effort to secure a finding that daily fantasy violates New York law. According to Eric Fisher of SportsBusiness Daily, Judge Mendez said a decision will come “very soon.”

The question is whether Judge Mendez will issue a preliminary injunction banning daily fantasy in New York pending the resolution of the litigation regarding whether daily fantasy violates New York law. Via Fisher, the New York Attorney General’s office argued (while reading exclusively from a script) that daily fantasy is gambling because the players have no control over the outcome of the game, and that it’s essentially an alternative method for betting on sports.

Well-known attorney David Boies, who represents DraftKings, argued that the Attorney General’s office made a fatal error by targeting daily fantasy only and not season-long fantasy, given the similarity of the games. He also argued that daily fantasy requires even more skill than season-long fantasy, that the Attorney General’s office is essentially trying to “destroy” DraftKings’ business, and that it would be extraordinary to shut down daily fantasy without giving DraftKings and FanDuel a full day in court to develop evidence and to make arguments.

Via Fisher, the Attorney General’s office also pointed to the prevalence of DFS ads and the social ills that can arise from wagering money on these activities. FanDuel’s counsel responded by pointing out that state-sponsored lotteries create the same potential problems.

The hearing comes only a few days after Commissioner Roger Goodell explained that the NFL sees a “big distinction” between season-long fantasy and DFS, and that “[s]eason-long fantasy is [what] many people probably play in this room and it’s fun, it’s social, it’s an opportunity to enjoy the game,” via USA Today. “We encourage our kids to do it and they have clubs at school and it’s a way to connect people. And we think that’s a wonderful way. Daily fantasy’s taken a little different approach, and it’s one that we have not been as active in that. We want to make sure that we understand how it’s going to be done.”

The first question is whether it will be done, as in finished. If outlawed in New York, other stats could follow suit — and the entire industry could disappear.

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Family says Frank Gifford had CTE

Frank Gifford AP

Earlier this year, Hall of Famer Frank Gifford died at the age of 84. His family has now announced that a team of pathologists has determined that Gifford suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy.

“While Frank passed away from natural causes this past August at the age of 84, our suspicions that he was suffering from the debilitating effects of head trauma were confirmed,” says the statement from the Gifford family.

“During the last years life Frank dedicated himself to understanding the recent revelations concerning the connection between repetitive head trauma and its associated cognitive and behavioral symptoms — which he experienced firsthand,” the statement adds.

Gifford played decades before the NFL acknowledged the potential problems arising from concussions and subconcussive hit. Gifford once missed more than a full season after being knocked out by Eagles linebacker Chuck Bednarik.

Under the pending NFL concussion settlement, the posthumous diagnosis makes Gifford’s estate eligible for compensation from a pool that the league has agreed to fund without limitation.

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